You’ve gotten your vacation days approved, your travel insurance covered, and your passport expiration date extended. By all accounts, you must be ready to board your flight for that group trip you’ve been planning for what feels like forever. But so much can happen on a trip that you can’t plan for, specifically, issues that may arise between you and your friends when you’re in close quarters for the first time. Here’s how to manage all those tricky dynamics involved in traveling in groups.
It’s best to think critically about who you travel with instead of hopping on a plane with the first friend or acquaintance who happens to have a similar opening in their schedule. “As a psychiatrist and an introverted empath, I know how important it is to travel with people you’re compatible with,” said Judith Orloff, M.D., author of The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People.
Start by choosing group members that mirror your personality and value system. For Orloff, that means quieter, more meditative folks who aren’t heavy drinkers. For you, a compatible group might stay up late and take advantage of the city’s nightlife. And that’s okay — as long as it works for you. Keep in mind that you might know them inside and out on a daily basis, but in this new setting, you need to be explicit on the type of travel experience you’re planning for, and whether you all share the same goals.
Balance your needs
When traveling in a group, be prepared to relinquish at least part of your desire to sleep in or spend an extra few days in a remote town. That sounds a lot worse than it actually is — making your friends happy can, in turn, be infectious and contribute to your own happiness.
“In some cases, you can go off in subgroups to explore. At other times you compromise. You need to balance the importance of group time as travelers versus having your more unique needs met,” said Orloff.
Look at any social group, and you’re bound to find that one self-appointed leader who, for better or for worse, takes all the initiative. When traveling, said leader might make decisions to the detriment of the group — like book the most expensive flights with the longest layovers, or choose a hotel with no or expensive WiFi. You’re spending far too much money and traveling far too long to let someone control you, so it’s in your best interest to stand up for yourself and the rest of the group.
“Definitely have a conversation with them right away,” said Orloff. “You need to speak up and not be a people pleaser, especially when it comes to finances and safety. Don’t be afraid to express your needs and set boundaries with their behavior when needed.”
It pays to have a group leader in one circumstance: They can act as a mediator when tensions inevitably arise between two travelers in the group. If you’re an empath like Orloff, and have a keen ability to sense other people’s emotions, avoid assigning yourself the role of peacemaker. Your sensitive tendencies might inspire you to “over-help,” which can get you into trouble, she said. The group leader, however, might thrive off this type of power dynamic while still helping smooth out any issues among quarreling friends.
Let’s say you’re experiencing said tension with a friend. There are all kinds of reasons why you’d begin to resent them on a group trip; maybe they borrowed your towel without asking and promptly lost it, or maybe they snapped at you before their morning Vietnamese coffee (seriously, Southeast Asia is worth the trip for that drink alone). Whatever the case may be, address it from a position of compassion. After all, you want to mitigate any potential awkwardness during the remainder of the trip, and hopefully stay friends afterwards.
In this situation, Orloff suggested pulling them aside for a conversation. “Always start with positives when you address a conflict like ‘I’m thrilled we’re traveling together but there’s one request I’d like to make,’ and then state the issue and solution you’re looking for,” she said. “Don’t get snippy or angry in this communication. Come from a centered loving place. Then you can be better heard.”
Not all group trips will go exactly as planned, but with planning and a little extra thought, you can make sure your whole crew comes out with positive memories.